"During the 80s, I relearned forestry here on our land, from the forest owners point of view. My guiding principle, that has worked out quite well, is to "do just the opposite" of what all the other foresters are doing as business as usual."
Crafton echoes the same frustration with the traditional timber industry. "I refuse to do commercial logging anymore. Good logging takes having the right attitude, the method is less important. Logging machines are OK with the right operator in control, and horses can to a lot of damage if the logger isn't trained or simply doesn't care. But you can't do with a machine what I can do with a horse."
"A professional logger with a trained team of horses is a dream come true for most forest owners," said Birkemeier.
"The logger is the most important person in any forest management system," he continued. "They should be well trained, have the best equipment, and be paid a professional wage for their work. Our entire business system was developed to be able to pay the logger to do careful harvesting work - whatever the cost. One visitor watching our logging system named it 'Arthroscopic Logging.' We use a small incision, specific work is accomplished, there is little damage, little pain, and the patient goes right back to work."
"Most loggers wowrk in a forest one time, never to return. There is no incentive to manage for the future. The thought is, 'if I don't cut it - someone else will.' There is little job security and few benefits. In our system," explains Birkemeier, "the logger works in the same forest year after year. He knows that good work will be rewarded in many ways. Our loggers are also crossed trained so they can do other jobs when the ground is wet or the risk of spreading disease in the forest is high. Helping install the flooring in a customer's homes makes you a better sawmiller, logger, and forest manager."
To pay the higher costs of Arthroscopic Logging, Birkemeier developed a new market for his timber. He sells his annual harvest as manufactured wood products - mostly mixed species hardwood flooring - installed and finished in the customer's home. "Direct sales of our wood earns us about 100 times what a timber buyer would have paid us for those trees standing out in the forest. We have eliminated all the middlemen, brokers, shippers and retailers - keeping all the money for ourselves. The net result is a very profitable business for the forest owner. We could earn several thousand dollars per acre each year, if that were our goal," added Birkemeier.
Birkemeier hauls his harvested logs an average of ½ mile to his sawmill shed, where three small machines are used to turn the logs into lumber. The boards are then dried in his home built solar cycle kilns. The hay mow of the 100 year old barn is now a humidity controlled dry storage facility. The old milking parlor is his woodworking shop where wood is manufactured into high value products. Crafton wants to learn about this system to make his work with timber more profitable too.